Colorado Fires: Devastated Indian-American families recount experience

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Video of the destruction caused to the home of Nilam Desai and her family, residents of Colorado, following the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire. Photo videograb from gofundme.com/f/Help-Them-Rebuild-Their-World

As the video rolls over the debris of a home that once echoed with sounds of joy and laughter, one can hear steps crunching the ground laden with broken bricks, concrete, wood, and hears the a breathless voice saying, “That used to be the fireplace.” A few steps later, “That’s the bikes… the bikes are all gone.”

After that the most poignant words break through the tragedy of December 30, 2021, on new year’s eve when the Colorado fires ravaged more than a thousand homes as it tore through the town near Denver where Nilam  Desai and her family owned a home.

“All the memories, the photographs, the years of everything … gone… toast. Oh well … Happy New Year!” says her voice filled with irony.

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The video, posted on YouTube just a few days ago, is on a GoFundMe site that appeals to everyone to ‘Help them Rebuild Their World.” (gofundme.com/f/Help-Them-Rebuild-Their-World organized by Tori Ganahl and four others)

“1000 homes burned down and ours was one of them.  This was the worst fire they’ve seen in Colorado I believe.  We are absolutely devastated,” Nilam Desai tells News India Times via email Jan. 15, 2022.

Nilam Desai, (Photo: courtesy Nilam Desai)

Responding to queries about whether more Indian-Americans were affected, Desai says, “As our entire home is destroyed and we’ve had not one second to think of anything but the million urgent things that need to be taken care of from morning till night since the fire, I honestly have no idea who specifically was affected.”

Scouring local media reports, I find no Indian names among those interviewed over the days following the devastation, one that saw President Biden going to Colorado to condole with victims and point to climate change as the biggest contributor.

That was attested to by Desai, who noted that there were “no reports of us in local media as I haven’t spoken to anyone.” But a French television news reporter did speak to her the day after and their name appeared in some European outlet, alerting friends as far away as Saudi Arabia who recognized Desai and her daughter.

Now known as the Marshall Fire or Middle Fork Fire, that within minutes blew into Boulder County, north of Denver, wiped out homes with its high-licking flames, in the towns of Louisville and Superior, lasting at least half a day and leaving smouldering homes like those of Desai and her family.  It was followed by a snowfall next day that helped quench the fires but not before destroying homes of Desai and her friends and community.

The site of Nilam Desai and her family’s home after the devastating fire of Dec. 31, 2021, in Colorado, now being referred tp as the Marshall Fire. Photo: courtesy Nilam Desai
The site of Nilam Desai’s home after the snowfall Dec. 31, 2021, that helped douse the devastating fires sof the day before, in Colorado, now being referred tp as the Marshall Fire. Photo: courtesy Nilam Desai

“We’ve been nonstop busy from early morning until dark,” says Desai.

The GoFundMe website is short on details. But the video embodies the deepest feelings of loss in the face of natural disasters or human-made calamities.

Desai, who last September, wrote a moving tribute to those who died on 9/11, carried in News India Times, “Amnesia 9-1-1: Is forgetting the lessons from the past a running thread in the American consciousness?” lived through that tragedy while working at the World Financial Center adjacent to the World Trade Center towers where she lost some of those she knew. “Most of us in the Tri-state area knew someone, or someone who knew someone, who perished that day,” Desai wrote then.

Thankfully, this second tragedy had only one fatality and one person missing. And Desai’s family was saved like the more than 35,000 people who evacuated the communities worst hit by the devastating flames.

While writing about 9/11 last year, Desai prophetically asked, “Could I ever imagine any time, or any event in the future, that could be more horrifying than what I witnessed that day, twenty years ago, on 9/11…?

Another Indian-American family that escaped with just the clothes on their back is that of Sharanya and Debanjan (no last name given), a GoFundMe page set up by their friend Nilanjan Mukherjee reveals (gofundme.com/lets-clear-the-smoke).

Sheranya, Debanjan and daughter Shahana whose whom newly built home was destroyed bdy the Dec. 30, 2021 Marshall Fire in Colorado. Photo: gofundme.com @lets-clear-the-smoke, created by friend Nilanjan Mukherjee

Sharanya & Debanjan started a new life in Colorado when they moved there in 2019, and over the last few years, despite obstacles posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, they finally managed to get their ‘Home” built and moved in November 2021, with their toddler Shahana, just weeks before the Marshall Fire.

At the same time, grandparents of Shahana finally made it to America to see their granddaughter.

“When everything seemed to be coming together finally, it all fell apart without a moment’s notice,” says the fundraising site.

Luckily, the story has a somewhat happy ending where the couple, their child, and parents made it out in the 15 minutes given to escape the raging fires that burnt their new home to the ground.

“We are grateful that there were no injuries and casualties, but there is no price that can be named for the multiple memories and events and sentiments collected and curated over more than 30 years,” notes the organizer of the gofundme site, which has raised $51,528 in donations both small and large, slightly overshooting the goal of $50,000.

Among the many verified GofundMe sites to help the victims is also one named ‘Loving Up Karma & Dafuti Sherpa,” a Tibetan couple who the site says, “have spent their entire lives working to ease the suffering of others in distress, both near and far,” and urging donors to step as “It is our turn now.”

With just their clothes on their back and minutes to spare, “Karma, Dafuti, Sonam and little Sonia fled their home in the teeth of the withering smoke and flames of the Marshal fire on 12/30/21. Thankfully, Karma’s quick and decisive action saved their lives and their automobile, but having absolutely no time to consider any personal effects whatsoever it appears their home and every item they own is a complete loss. Imagine fleeing our smoke engulfed homes with our children and nothing more than one credit card. Never to return,” says the GoFundMe site which has already garnered $32,505, more than the goal of $32,000, as of Jan. 17, 2022.

The stories of Desai, Sheranya & Debanjan as well as of Karma & Dafuti are repeated hundreds of times since that fateful day, December 30, 2021.

(These stories may have missed other Indian-Americans affected by the fires. Please contact ela@newsindiatimes.com with any additional information)

 

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